Sunday, March 4, 2018

Woven Together - A Practice to Build Authentic Connection and Psychological Safety

By Jody Gold with Mario Moreira

The game is changing.
 Hierarchies are flattening out. Companies are re-organizing to profit from the agility and collective intelligence of smart, flexible teams.  The concept of “leadership” itself is changing—from individual leadership that devises strategy and drives troops into battle, to relational leadership that catalyzes the creativity and commitment of all team members.

The good news is that there are constructive frameworks from the isolation, frustration, and disengagement that reduce collective learning and performance, to fully engaged, highly coordinated, innovative and agile teams that increase learning and performance. Matrix Leadership is one such framework that helps you successfully navigate this transformation.

Woven Together is an early practice and part of Matrix Leadership that helps strengthen the fabric of your team. Icebreakers and team-building exercises are often fun but their value fades.  Woven Together builds authentic connection, curiosity, and care among team members that last. People who’ve worked on teams together for years often rarely know about each other as people.  They may not know that John has a baby girl, and fills up with love when he talks about her getting her first tooth, or that Jennifer gets lit up by the smells, sounds, and tastes of street food when she is in another country. 

Woven Together raises energy in the room and can be used as a stand-alone activity.  It’s also a tangible introduction to core concepts like seeing relationships as first class entities that Mario Moreira describes in his article (part 1 of this series) and the entire network of relationships within a team as the relationship infrastructure that Jody Gold describes in part 2 of the series.  You can practice Woven Together with your team, right now.


The ingredients include your team, a ball of yarn, 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your team, and enough space to stand in a comfortable circle.

Determine if each person in the circle will say just their name or their name, role, years in role, years at company, years doing agile.  This will depend on how well the facilitator and team members know each other.

You are person A.  You will explain the activity and model the two most important components: 1) forming a connection with one person—person B - and speaking to that person only, instead of scanning from person to person as we’ve all learned to do, and 2) telling person B 'something that light you up' in a way that is genuine and concise.

  1. Person A wraps the end of yarn around a forefinger and loosens enough yard equal to the distance between person A and B.  Person A throws the ball of yarn to BA speaks directly and only to B.
  2. Person A says their Name.  Person B says their Name. 
  3. Person A shares, “Something that lights me up is…”
  4. B responds in a few words to complete the connection, “Cool. Thanks for telling me that. I want to know more about that. Etc.”
  5. Person B chooses person C.  Repeat steps 1-5 (figure 1)
  6. C chooses D and repeats steps 1-5.  Iterate until all people steps 1-5 and the ball of yarn is back at A  (figure 2).
  7. After the yarn is back at person A, ask people to share what the experience was like and how things feel different now than before the activity.  

Final Thoughts

If Woven Together is used to introduce other practices, you may invite observations about the structure itself and its capacities.  Participants will name many characteristics of distributed leadership before they’ve learned about them formally.

Woven Together almost runs itself.  It’s amazing how much authentic connection, trust, and psychological safety arise from sharing ‘What Lights You Up.’  As the one leading the activity, be prepared for someone to say that speaking to only one person feels rude, exclusive, or uncomfortable.  Of course it may—scanning from person to person is a deep cultural norm.  Others may describe a sense of ease staying in connection with one person, like talking one-on-one with a friend.

Woven Together is also a good way for everyone to hear everyone else’s name a couple of times, and to quickly know who’s in what role and for how long, and/or how long they’ve been on the team or in the company.  It’s a great activity for a new team, a team whose membership has changed, or a new cross-functional project.

You have everything you need right now to turn thirty minutes into gold.  If you would like more information, consider contacting Jody Gold to discuss Woven Together or to learn more about how to equip teams to think, decide, and act as effectively as they can together.  

Read Part 1 & 2 of the Relationship series:
(Part 1) Importance of treating Relationships as First Class Entities 
(Part 2) Strengthening the Relationship Infrastructure to Build High-Performing Teams


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